Diary of devastation: Returning home to a battered Japan - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Diary of devastation: Returning home to a battered Japan

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Posted: Saturday, April 23, 2011 9:00 am | Updated: 11:55 am, Mon Apr 25, 2011.

Former East Valley Tribune photographer Toru Kawana is visiting his mother and family in Japan. The following are excerpts from his diary:

April 11

I had an uneasy feeling about this trip.  I think it’s going to be a long emotional trip ... I read in a Japanese newspaper web page that bullet trains are running. That will cut my traveling time tremendously from Narita Airport to my hometown Koriyama in Fukushima Prefecture northeast of Japan. But the morning I left, there was a strong aftershock in Japan, which might have damaged train tracks again ...  

April 12

The plane landed late by 30 minutes ... On TV, several times an hour, “Hang in there Japan” commercial is on because of the massive earthquake (that) devastated northeastern part of Japan.

April 13

Spring is here in Narita. I saw cherry blossoms blooming ... There were 6 people on the bus including myself. When we had arrived at the suburb of Koriyama, I started to see damages caused by the earthquake. Many houses had some tarps over their roofs which covered the tile damages .... It’s hard to believe it’s been a month since the quake. 

April 14

Many heartbreaking sad stories appeared in the local newspaper. One of them was when the tsunami rushed to a coastal city after the massive earthquake, as a man grabbed his children to safety and turned around to hoist his wife, he saw his wife swept away ...  Because of a jet lag, I was awake by 4:30 am. I went for a run. As I ran down the road, I started to notice more damages caused by the earthquake ... I ran to my grandmother’s grave site. That’s what Japanese people do. When we visit our hometowns, we visit our ancestor’s cemetery to say hello. The winding road along a river reminded me that I was at the right place, but I couldn’t remember where the plot was. I prayed at the grave stone which said my grandmother’s last name “Kageyama,” but later I realized that the grave stone didn’t say her name “Kiyo.” I was at a wrong grave site. There have been small aftershocks 3-4 times a day since I have been here. “Didn’t you feel it?” my mom asked as soon as I came home from my early morning (run). I said, “Huh? Really?” I didn’t feel it while running probably because I am always shaky when I run.  

April 15

“After an aftershock, a bullet train had stopped running” is the most common information I read in the newspaper ... I took pictures of all the damages caused by the earthquake at my mama’s house and filed paperwork for government aid. It’s still not sure if the government will decide to step in to help the citizens financially for rebuilding. At least her paperwork is in. We will know in several months ... not soon enough.  

April 16

We had three minor aftershocks in an hour ... As we were getting ready to go see the water fall of cherry blossom in Miharu, the weather changed very badly. The gust was so strong that some school children commuting to schools on bicycles had a hard time staying upright. After having a nice lunch at noodle shop, we came home and took a nap again.  While we were gone, my aunt from Sukagawa called. They wanted to stop by, but we were gone and the weather was too bad to drive. 

April 17

My cousin Miho Watanabe hasn’t had a good night sleep since the earthquake. For the next big one, she keeps a portable radio, water jug, an umbrella, and a flashlight at the front door of her house. The nurse was working when the earthquake shook the ground. “Please don’t worry about me,” her patient said. “Go evacuate!” Miho was leaning against a locker so that it (wouldn’t) fall down on people evacuating. Her brother Kazuyoshi Kageyama is a high school teacher. Because he heard not all the students are accounted for, he decided to look for them in the building and found several students were hiding under the desks. “The hallways were like a jello,” he said. Miho’s daughter Mami is going to celebrate (her) 8th birthday next month. “I want a machine to read radiation for my birthday,” she said ... The word “radiation” is a common word even among elementary school students. According to a newspaper, some school children who were evacuated from the coastal cities around the nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture in Japan are bullied at their new schools. The bullies think those kids are bringing radiation to schools.

April 18

We had more aftershocks while sleeping. Today is the day my sister is going back to Saitama near Tokyo ... After saying goodbye to her, I walked to downtown and went shopping ... I saw more damages caused by the earthquake. More stores are closed. I was sad ... The downtown. That’s where the things were happening. 

April 19

I woke up to the sound of rain ... I am sure the raindrops contain radiation from the nuclear power plant. It reminds me of what my father Shigeru said when I was growing up.  “Don’t go outside in rain without an umbrella,” he said. “You are going to get bold.” I looked through a box full of family pictures and sorted them out from the ones we don’t want to keep. I don’t know why my mom asked me to look through (them). It seems as though the earthquake made her realize that we could die any second therefore she wants me to throw away (what) she doesn’t need. She seems as though she is getting ready to die ... In the evening, my cousin and aunt came and picked us up to go have a dinner at traditional Japanese style restaurant. I had a sashimi plate, which was amazingly tasty. When we came out from the restaurant, it was still raining.

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